Half of South Sudan facing food shortages, warns UN

A mother and daughter from South Kordofan, Sudan, at a feeding centre for the acutely malnourished in the Yida refugee camp in Unity State, South Sudan on 12 May 2012 Yida refugee camp just south of the border has seen an influx of malnourished people due to renewed fighting

More than half the population of South Sudan are facing food shortages due to the continuing conflict with Sudan, the UN is warning.

It says fighting on the border between the two countries and the shutdown of oil production have had a devastating impact on the South's economy.

It adds there are fears the situation in the South, which gained independence from Sudan last July, is worsening.

Previous estimates suggest 4.7 million people are at risk of food shortages.

In this latest report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) says a complex combination of factors has "raised fears that the South Sudanese are sliding into destitution".

Those factors include:

  • clashes between north and south along the contested border regions
  • inter-communal violence in Jonglei state
  • the closure of oil production in a row over transit fees with Khartoum.

Citing research from the World Food Programme, the report says food shortfalls have continued to worsen in the first four months of 2012. It says at least one million people will be food insecure this year while a further 3.7 million people are borderline.

Refugee burden

It says the country is looking at a deficit of cereal crops of nearly half a million tons - the worst in peacetime and more than twice last year's shortfall.

It also says that poor infrastructure makes the delivery of humanitarian aid extremely precarious.

The continued arrival of southern refugees who had been living in the north is also placing a further burden on this fragile new country, says the BBC's Richard Hamilton.

Earlier this month rebels from the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (PSALM)-North described the plight of the civilian population in Blue Nile state - just north of the border - as catastrophic and said that more than 200,000 people were in dire need of food.

Adding to the cataclysmic predictions, our correspondent says, a leaked briefing from the World Bank talked of South Sudan's economy as teetering on the brink of collapse - although it later retracted those remarks, saying they had been taken out of context.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

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